March 04, 2022 by Amanda Reill
It’s happened to the best of us — you’ve got a dream to achieve something, and you get all fired up about it…then someone comes along with an unexpected (and unsolicited) opinion, throwing a wet blanket over your flame. Years down the road, you wonder how differently things could have gone if you’d followed your own intuition.
Other people’s opinions have that power. Especially when they come from family, friends, or others you respect. But why are they so powerful?
Part of the reason is that we’re social beings who want to be accepted by others. Conformity is a way to keep us socially “safe.” This instinct comes from our ancestors, whose tribe mentalities actually kept them physically safe. Being different or set apart could risk being outcast and losing the protection of the group. What psychologists have deemed our “behavioral inhibition system” causes us to stop in our tracks before making a decision that could be perceived as divergent from the norm.
But there comes a point in our entrepreneurial endeavors and personal passions when we have to decide whether we’d rather follow the pack (uncertain of where it is even going) or take the lead. The direction of the group, or even society, does not necessarily dictate the best way to do things.
"The first step toward success is taken when you refuse to be a captive of the environment in which you first find yourself." --Mark Caine
The opinions of others are invaluable. Because we can’t always see the fullness of our situations, they have the potential to direct us away from unforeseen catastrophes. But they’re not everything. Others may form opinions about your dreams that are based on their experience and wisdom. Those opinions may also be based on their emotions and their own limited point of view. Talking to another entrepreneur who works in a similar space to the one you’re trying to enter, for example, is more likely to produce valuable insight than a friend who already struggles with jealousy or envy. A wise mentor may see flaws in your processing that merit your attention above a family member who has an unspoken ideal they’re holding you to.
Nobody knows and sees your vision better than you do. The opinions of others are almost always worth analyzing, but we should avoid handing over the keys to someone else.
Research from the American Psychological Association shows that caring about what others think is a self-protection mechanism that begins as early as 24 months old. We’re often nervous about being negatively evaluated by others, and for good reason. We’re social beings, and healthy relationships with other people are critical to our mental health and development. Our anxiety over someone else’s disapproval of our actions or decisions comes from a place deep within that wants to preserve our place in the “tribe.”
Sometimes, we might feel our relationships are at risk based on whether we behave the way another person wants us to. Other times, we also may act simply based on what we think their opinion is, when we aren’t necessarily correct. Going against the grain challenges our security and can be scary. Yet, the instinct to preserve your social status, like so many other of our natural drives, is best obeyed when filtered through your intellect.
Opinions matter only when we allow them to. If we’re driving toward a goal, it is important to maintain our focus and look past these distractions. So, how do we overcome this unhealthy and unproductive obsession?
It is important to look within before considering the opinions of others. Are you sure of what you believe is the right path for yourself? Do you know why? If you haven’t established a firm foundation here, you’re more likely to be too quickly swayed by others’ opinions.
You have the right to decide whether or not to listen to anyone’s opinion. Rather than give everyone’s opinion access into your mind, screen everything you hear. Put up some gatekeepers in your mind that enforce healthy boundaries. If someone’s comment sounds like it’ll trespass those boundaries, kick them out. You have the ability to control what you pay attention to.
In the words of Michel John Bobak, "All progress takes place outside the comfort zone." Too often we are afraid to defy the norm, so we play it safe. To effectively leave your comfort zone and reach for your goal, start by taking on challenges that lie within your panic zone and the outer limits of your comfort zone.
You might have to take a deep breath for this one. Human beings generally like to be liked. It’s a fact. Another sobering fact: not everyone will like you. This is one of the most difficult — and most freeing — things you can commit to learning. Do not feel pressured to prove to anyone that you are worthy enough of their acceptance. Studies show that we consistently overestimate how much, and how badly, others think about our failings. We have enough work to do in overcoming the opinions of others that we don’t need to invent any imaginary ones.
Bottom line, if you want to push past the negative energy and live out your dream, you need to be able to identify unsupportive and toxic people and set healthy boundaries. Being true to yourself can mean being willing to lose friendships. But remember — it may just open you up to new connections that will fuel your fire and allow you to actualize your greatest self.
You might also enjoy the Goal Setting - Why Self-Awareness is Key to Goal Setting blog.
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